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Rep. Carlos Curbelo shows he’s not Sen. Joni Ernst’s sock puppet


Miami’s newly elected congressman, Carlos Curbelo, was honored to give the GOP’s State of the Union response in Spanish, but with one catch: He was supposed to repeat Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst English language reply.

But Curbelo wasn't a sock puppet mouthing Spanish words strictly in accordance with Ernst’s. So he mentioned immigration reform, Cuba and education – three issues the Cuban-American former school board member ran on that she didn’t mention.

“I tried to reconcile our broader party message with my experience,” Cubelo said. “I’m a representative of a people, a congressional district and I wanted to make sure that experience was represented.”

Curbelo, though, allowed a misimpression about his speech to be echoed in the liberal press, namely Mother Jones, which crowed about how Curbelo would have to echo Ernst’s speech almost word for word – and therefore not mention immigration.

“My staff wanted to say something,” Curbelo said, “But I said ‘no. Let the speech speak for itself.'”

Curbelo said his changes to the speech were made about three days before liberal critics took aim at the possible tensions between his beliefs and Ernst's. As a result, he said, he had made up his mind to make the changes well before criticism arose.

Curbelo said he shared his changes -- at least a dozen -- with House leadership “and they had no problems. I don’t want people to think there was a fight. There wasn’t.”

However, he said, he didn’t add in personal beliefs of his that might be too contentious for many Republicans.

Curbelo didn’t talk about gay marriage.

“I personally believe in the freedom to marry,” he said, “many in the party still oppose that. “I wanted this speech to be about what our party believes and what I believe. I didn’t want to poke people in the eye.”

So Curbelo didn’t specifically call for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants – a major dividing line between comprehensive immigration reformers and critics. Curbelo, instead, adhered to the issues about immigration reform that a majority of politicians on the right and left support.

“Let us work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions to our immigration system - to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy,” he said in the speech.

As for Cuba, Ernst didn’t mention that either – an interesting omission considering the broader Midwestern interest in increasing agricultural trade with the island (see Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s early votes on the issue).

Reflecting the exile’s sentiment of Miami, Curbelo made sure to criticize President Obama’s attempt to normalize relations.

Cuba was certainly part of the speech-night’s theatrics. Obama had brought freed American political prisoner Alan Gross as a guest to the speech while House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Marco Rubio, representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz- Balart brought along and advocated for Cuban dissidents who oppose what they say were Obama’s bad concessions.

Curbelo shares essentially the same platform on foreign policy and immigration reform as Diaz-Balart (for whom Curbelo worked in a tough 2008 campaign), Ros-Lehtinen and Rubio.

“It is also essential that the United States supports its allies and holds its enemies accountable,” he said. “We are disturbed by the administration’s undeserved concessions to the regimes in Iran and Cuba. Both countries are ruled by cruel dictatorships that FOR decades have tried to harm our country and our allies.”

Attached is a side-by-side comparison, compiled by Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei, of 12 differences between the two speeches. 

Download Curbelo v. Ernst

This post has been updated